We live in a culture where, for the most part, romantic commitment is sold at a wholesale price, cheapened to the merely physical. So long as there is no sex, there is no problem. Only when naked under the covers does any line get crossed. So the boundaries most couples build to protect their relationships, and marriages, if they do so at all, are just strong enough to keep out a sexual affair, but little else. Weaknesses remain with gaps wide enough to allow truckloads of other hazardous relationship killers in without the slightest notice or concern.
Everyone’s understanding of commitment is different. It comes in many shades. Flirting for some may be just an extension of their otherwise harmless butterfly personalities. Another, however, may consider that same flirting to be disrespectful and dishonoring. What I might feel is appropriate behavior with another woman might cause the Queen to question my sincerity about her and us. There isn’t a universal definition for commitment; and that little distinction often causes big trouble.
This is because our feelings about it rarely get discussed. Doing so feels rehearsed. But if they are brought up, it often comes across or gets interpreted more along the lines of jealousy or control. If I were to say to the Queen, ‘I didn’t like the way you were talking to that guy’, or ‘Why were you sitting on the back of his bike?’ I’d sound like a dominating psycho. When in reality, had I handled it more delicately and respectfully, doing so would be showing her how I define commitment.
I think the Queen will admit I’m rather traditional, in that I have a Bible Belt way of looking at romance and commitment. I grew up in a family that couldn’t comprehend divorce. Martial problems were never displayed. Rarely were there situations where the commitment in their marriages could be tested.
So I entered adulthood with assumptions about commitment formed by watching those marriages around me. To be a ‘couple’, for me, came with certain expectations on what a relationship ought to look like and how it should be treated. I think most of us are similar, which is wise, reasonable and necessary. My only problem was – and I think most of us are this way also – I never let those expectations be known because I didn’t truly understand them myself. I had a picture of what commitment should look like; I just couldn’t say why it was painted that way.
A lot of women probably considered me a jealous guy. If I thought she was being overly friendly with another dude, maybe she sat in his lap or took a drink from his beer, I would see that as offensive and begin pouting, scowling, and emotionally distancing myself to show that displeasure. When she finally asked what was wrong, I‘d look past her and contemptuously respond, ‘nothing!’ Thinking to myself, ‘shouldn’t she know?’ I would then act like a sniveling child until she apologized, started acting the way I thought proper, or until I felt she had adequately repented of her impiety.
As I got older I became wiser to the things that would trigger these reactions. I knew myself just enough to be dangerous. And that led to another problem. Though I was wise enough to know what bothered me and why it did, I was also wise enough to know that saying anything would most likely paint me as petty and jealous. No one wants to be that!
My solution was to back door the situation; disguising my frustrations to resemble opinions of other people’s behaviors. I might criticize a friend who was acting in some way similar to what she had done, with the aim of telling her how I felt without having to confront her directly and looking like a jerk. It was honesty using smoke and mirrors.
Each of these approaches worked, but only slightly. Any woman with an iota of confidence could see through this as the little game of an insecure little boy. Unless I wanted to be reduced to dating women as emotionally retarded as I was, I’d need to start growing up.
One of the great things about age is the better you start knowing yourself the less you start caring what others think. When that happens lots of things begin making more sense. I came to see that jealousy in a relationship is what naturally happens when couples don’t define their commitment in that relationship; when they fail to outline what commitment looks like for them, what is to be acceptable behavior and should be avoided. They don’t build strong walls to protect the relationship against all possible enemies, instead of just those generally seen as dangerous.
My relationship with the Queen is anchored on the idea of ‘honor’. This means our commitment is defined by the way our actions – together or apart – honor, respect, and validate the other person and the relationship. Does my behavior give the Queen hope and confidence about my commitment to her, or does it allow insecurity and doubt to creep in? When I’m not with her do I act in such a way that shows everyone else that I’m happily and completely committed to someone? Or does my loyalty feel lukewarm?
Does going to a strip club make the Queen feel beautiful and reinforce that she is the only one I see, or would it open a crack of doubt about my sincerity and appreciation for her? Should she start to share intimate details and secrets about our relationship with other men, would that make me feel loved or threatened?
I’ve learned the most effective way to define commitment in a relationship is doing so before the first problems arise. Talking about it early in the relationship when both believe the other can do no wrong and each are willing to bend backwards to make one another happy. Assuming and therefore waiting until a blow up happens and feelings get hurt is to suffer being labeled jealous and controlling. But intentionally discussing what will define your commitment long before that commitment can be tried and tested is the foundation stone of a protective wall and allows the relationship to thrive without doubt and anxiety.
Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, there has to be a willingness by both to sacrifice individual feelings for the well-being of other person and the relationship. If openly flirting with other women, talking suggestively to them, or making innuendos about them is a problem for the Queen, even if I don’t see it as an issue, I should be open to change that behavior for the sake of her feelings. That’s why it’s so important to begin defining that commitment early. It is possible his or her expectations for what commitment should look like in the relationship is so out of line with your feelings, or even reality, that the relationship has no future. It’s better to know that kind of thing early rather than six months in.
It’s said commitment is hard, and it is. It demands patience, intention, grace, sacrifice – and a definition of what it will be.